Synopsis by Mark Deming
Two men discover the perils of going into business with their friends as they observe the rise and fall of their Internet firm over the course of its first (and only) year in this documentary produced by D.A. Pennebaker. Tom Herman and Kaleil Isaza Tuzman first met while they were in high school; they studied business together in college, and they remained close friends after graduating, often bandying about the idea of working together. In May of 1999, they made their dream a reality and opened Govworks.com, a Web-based firm devoted to helping people deal more efficiently with local governments (it began as a notion to pay parking tickets online). Govworks.com soon exploded, going from a one-room office with a tiny staff to over 200 employees and a bankroll of $50 million. However, like many other Internet firms of their day, Govworks.com was not destined to succeed, and by January of 2001, the company had let nearly all its employees go, and was eventually swallowed up by a larger firm, with Herman and Isaza Tuzman having little to show for their efforts. Just as significantly, after their initial burst of enthusiasm, Herman and Isaza Tuzman found themselves locking horns, as they displayed their naivete about the nuts and bolts of making an Internet start-up work; Herman's gentle nature clashed with Isaza Tuzman's all-business approach, and eventually Herman was forced out of the company he had helped to found by his longtime friend. Directors Jehane Noujaim and Chris Hegedus shot Startup.com using digital video equipment, and to keep the film as timely as possible, screened a digital copy of the film, which went through its final edit only days before its premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.